12 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.”
They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.”
Parallel passages (plus context):
So many angles to this
First one I notice is this: In Jesus, the apostles have a leader they’ve seen heal countless people of their physical maladies, set free a multitude of hopelessly bound-up outcasts (including some they know personally), calm vicious storms—even raise the dead.
And they come to this leader with a suggestion. I’m sure they discussed it among themselves first. I can picture it in my mind (been to more of these meetings than I can count). Back and forth. Alternate scenarios. Multitple if-thens.
Then they appointed someone to fill Jesus in on what they thought he should do.
And they did a good job. Concise. Comprehensive (there’s a tough balance). I especially like how they described the physical environment (“…because we’re in a remote place here…”), because Jesus, you know, didn’t know that. It’s a good thing for him that he had them around to keep him apprised of things (“Yes, John, I know he’s smart, but he did miss that storm thing till we pointed it out…”).
“You give them something to eat.”
I wonder if they thought of that when they had their meeting—and then set it aside as unworkable. Clearly, Jesus had in mind something with far greater impact (if memory serves, this story and the one about Jesus walking on water join the Crucifixion and Resurrection as the only stories told in all four Gospels) than what the apostles had in mind.
Lessons on prayer
Have you ever thought about how much these interactions between Jesus and the people around him have to tell us about our own conversations with God? Well, it’s true. Everyone who talked to Jesus was talking to God. I’ve taught in other places that Jesus, in coming to earth, laid aside a lot of his God privileges (like being everywhere at once instead of being in only one place at a time, personally exercising power over things—like storms at sea—instead of using his Father’s power as it is given to him at the time, and knowing stuff without being told). But Jesus never stopped being God, and he never stopped communicating with the Father. If you were talking to Jesus, you were talking to God. Whatever he told you came straight from the Father. Whatever he did, he was simply doing what the Father was doing in the present situation. All the power, all the knowledge, that his Father had, was Jesus’s to use.
When you were talking to Jesus, you were—praying!
I’m not sure his followers knew that. Not at this point. But still, praying they were and we have much to learn from their praying, and from the answers they got.
Here’s what not to take away
- It’s tempting, knowing what Jesus ultimately did here, to simply think the disciples weren’t bold enough in their thinking. The answer is not to try and out-think God somehow in the Big Ideas Department. The answer is ultimately to get in position to hear God and then do what he says.
- It’s also tempting to think it’s wrong to bring our suggestions to God. I can’t prove this, but I strongly suspect one of the reasons God wants us to pray is that he wants to train us to see things things as he sees them and to know his heart, his way of thinking, how he responds to things. Not that it’s ever safe to put him in a box (sure, that’s a lazy, over-used phrase, but nonetheless appropriate here), but we are called to emulate Jesus, who while on this earth never uttered a word that the Father hadn’t spoken to him, or healed a person he didn’t see the Father healing at that moment. In prayerfully thinking through problems and solutions and then presenting them to God—making the suggestion—we are not merely exercising our mental powers, but being transformed. Becoming more like Jesus. Again, our purpose is to get in position to hear God and then do what he says. At the end of the day, if we’ve done that, we’ve accomplished a lot. It’s okay to bring a dumb idea to God if it gets a conversation going that lets us in on what he’s thinking. The key is to be flexible and listen.
Bring God into your conversations, whether you’re brainstorming with your spouse about a problem or facing a challenge at work, or having one of those inside-your-own-head conversations about an issue. Whatever the situation you need God to act in.
- Begin by acknowledging God’s presence—out loud if possible.
- Admit—again, out loud if possible—that you don’t know everything and never will.
- Embrace the fact that God cares about what you care about. Even if you’re exaggerating the importance of something, God cares about that. He doesn’t want you and me obsessing on unimportant stuff and he does speak to his children. A lot of the time, though, something’s on our heart because he brought it there.
- As much as you know the truth, speak the truth. May I say again, out loud, if possible.
- When you become aware that something you thought was true isn’t, banish the lie and tell the truth instead.
- Learn how to research the scriptures. Learn what the Bible has to say about your issue. Then do it.
- Make this brainstorming session an opportunity to begin or renew the life-long process of nurturing yourself through Bible study, prayer, relating to people—seeing people and events as God sees them.
- Hear God (he is speaking to you right now).
- Do what he says.
Will you let me know how it turns out?